Game #3 presents Purdue with their first “name” test, as they match up with the Big East’s Villanova at Madison Square Garden in New York as part of the 2k Sports Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project, broadcasted on ESPN2.
Villanova is traditionally an excellent program, but they struggled last year, going only 5-13 in conference while finishing with an overall record of 13-19. This was a far cry from recent squads who had been far more successful, making it as far as the Final Four during the 2008-09 season. However, it would not be wise to discount the Wildcats. They are coached by Jay Wright, an excellent coach who is widely respected in college basketball. And despite the pitiful performance last season, a combination of developing returning players and incoming talent make them a dangerous team for the Boilermakers.
Size Matters – Again
I should just make that headline a constant throughout the season. Size matters, and Purdue has it. But so does Villanova. They have a very big, very athletic frontcourt. Looking at them you cannot help but think that they have failed to play up to their potential. But they do have talent. They have three guys who are all at least 6’10”’: Mouphtaou Yarou, Maurice Sutton, and Daniel Ochefu. Between the three of them they average 19 points and 11.5 rebounds a game. This does not include JayVaughn Pinkston, a 6’7”, 260lb forward who is averaging 7.5 rebounds a game. Purdue’s rebounding woes that were so apparent during the Bucknell game had better be behind them, as Villanova has the size and ability to dominate the boards if Purdue’s bigs are too meek on the glass.
The Battle of Freshmen Point Guards
Ronnie Johnson’s role on this Purdue team is very clear: Purdue will only go as far as their starting true freshman point guard will take them. The same could also be said about Villanova, who also starts a freshman: Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono is having an excellent season so far, as he is averaging 18 points and five assists per game. Even taking Villanova’s competition into account (District of Columbia and Marshall) those are still impressive numbers. Both Johnson and Arcidiacono are aggressive defenders, and how this match-up goes will probably determine how the game goes.
Find An Identity
This Villanova team knows who they have to be. They have to have Arcidiacono play well, and they have to have their bigs dominate. Purdue is less settled. With so many fresh faces on the team, Purdue is still learning their identity. As the freshmen settle into their roles, it will become more clear what this team needs in order to be successful. Complicating matters is Terone Johnson’s foot injury. He looked OK Sunday versus Hofstra, but ankle injuries are tough, and the only thing that really heals them is time and rest, both luxuries now that the season has started. Purdue needs Terone on the court; not just to play great defense and score a bunch, but they also need his calming influence. If Terone is able to start and play at 100%, then Purdue is in great shape against Villanova. If he has to come off the bench and his minutes are limited, then that will be cause for concern. And if he is limited, then it will be even more important for DJ Byrd to step up and provide that leadership. He has been struggling with his shot lately, but stretches like this never last for too long for the senior. Look for him to get going Thursday evening.
I think this is an excellent test of this young Boilermaker squad. Neither Bucknell nor Hofstra had the athletes that Villanova has, and the Wildcats present an early season opportunity to match up against a fellow high major program. I would anticipate a close game. Early on, look to see how Purdue responds under the bright lights of MSG (in front of a crowd that will undoubtedly be decidedly pro-Villanova). Purdue needs to survive the emotional cost of playing in such a venue, and capitalize on Villanova’s weaknesses on the perimeter (which means that guys like Rapheal Davis and Anthony Johnson need to have good games) while correcting some of the errors that popped up in the first two games in order to walk away successful Thursday night.